Just Give Me Some Space: Discussions And Beyond
Indian Architect & Builder|November 2019
Just Give Me Some Space (JGMSS) is Suha Riyaz Khopatkar’s debut book that paints a portrait of the dynamic life of an architecture student.
Suha Riyaz Khopatkar

It shares light-hearted anecdotes and playful illustrations from the five years of architectural college education; while navigating through life and growing emotionally and professionally as a young adult; from entering wide-eyed into a design studio to working through the highs and lows of the degree to finally surmounting the final thesis year and coming out as an architect. Building new relationships with friends, family, the society, self and most-importantly with architecture is a key theme within the book. A relationship that is brimming with passion, angst and awe. In the creative community of architecture and design, this book is the first of its kind that addresses mental wellness and self-care.

While a detailed account of life in architecture college, it stays relevant to professionals too as it appeals to the adolescent search for self. It urges students to soul-search, discover their purpose in life and ultimately find their space in the sea of opportunities that lie ahead.

The book released on 28th August 2019 at Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture, Mumbai followed by a discussion around multi-dimensional facets of teaching and learning. Following is an excerpt from the panel discussion at the launch, with Vandana Ranjitsinh, Rohan Shivkumar, Nisha Nair-Gupta and Suha Riyaz Khopatkar; moderated by Anuj Daga.

ANUJ DAGA: It is a pleasure to share the stage with all of you because each of us represents a certain generation of teachers and students, so we can vouch for a generation that shaped us in a certain way. One of the key things is that I have been constantly thinking since I have read the book is the whole aspect of how ‘we’ relate to ‘students’ - the whole insider-outsider conundrum. And as teachers who are still learning, I would like to pose, how do we understand the student as a multidimensional persona? Our engagements with the student often happen in brief moments, whereas the student, in parallel, is living a life of their own, beyond the classroom. This “extra”[academic] life is inevitably feeding into the work of the student itself. How can we build those empathetic relationships within our discussions with the student?

ROHAN SHIVKUMAR: As teachers we expect architects and architecture students to imbibe certain skill-sets and often I would be irked at them for their sketching skills (the lack of it) and so on. But we forget that this young ‘skilled’ person, between the ages of 18-23, is also growing as a human-being. They are forming an identity, navigating architecture school and simultaneously becoming an adult. In school, as teachers, we focus primarily on developing the dexterities of the profession that they have undertaken. We perhaps overlook the personal trials and tribulations that the student undergoes in their personal life; hormones, finances, keeping up appearances, etc. For the first two years of architecture school, we should be conscious that the person is growing as a professional and a person, and both journeys are intermingled.

VANDANA RANJITSINH: The teacher who is assigned to students in the first year is the one who engages with them first-hand and initiates them into their journey of understanding this vocation. They get them excited, introduce them to materials, ideas and more; they should work with them sans judgement and let them operate in their space. The book mentions an analogy between the L-plate on a car to the first year of architecture school. A new driver with a learner’s licence puts up a sticker or an L-plate to indicate that they are novices. The L-plate endows a certain comfort but eventually the driver must traverse through roads sans it. And the road does get tough. A similar ‘L-plate’ exists in first year of architecture school that steers students but is ripped off in the subsequent years as the curriculum and life gets tougher. Some of us are tough on the students because we are preparing them for the demanding life that transpires after college. But these are very nascent years when their hormones are fizzing, they’re growing up and getting to know the world and we need to give them some space.

NISHA NAIR-GUPTA: Along with developing an idea of the self, our mental health is invariably tested in the high-strung scenarios from our architecture college. Eventually we develop lifestyle disorders/ arrangements in these five years of studying architecture which we normalise and carry forward into our professional lives. These issues must be addressed more proactively in our education system as well as practice. So during the course of our conversation over the book, I feel, this is a key aspect that can be one of the trajectories the book could take. Because I feel that we don’t talk about the lifestyle issues that we as architects undergo.

SUHA R. KHOPATKAR: The school to architecture college transition is tricky. In elementary school if I did not know the answer to a question, I would think of ways to trick the teacher into giving me better grades. I would either write in a better handwriting or write excessively by using multiple supplements. And this is why we are stumped on our first architectural jury because the entire mode of evaluation and the student-teacher relationship is different. We were now being judged not only by our work but also by our disposition, attitudes, stance, speech and so on. And as designing is a neverending process, the teacher’s requirements/expectations inculcate a mind-set that students have to eat, drink and breathe architecture! This vicious routine affects the student physically and mentally. So, it is very important for the teacher to be more receptive and help students acclimate.

ANUJ DAGA: This brings us to consider what strain of practice the student belongs to. Often we as teachers are trying to find that out to channel the student’s energies towards... We often sense that the way in which the student thinks of architecture may not be how we conceive of it traditionally. What are the strategies through which these modes can be strengthened beyond the normative, beyond what the profession asks for?

VANDANA RANJITSINH: As teachers we need to listen till we hear that non-conventional and non-traditional voice. Every student has a voice that sometimes gets stifled due to competition, as elementary schools have inculcated this business of scoring high marks. Then there are external pressures or pressures that are constructed primarily by the student themselves. How do you break that? Suha talks about the “Snowball Effect”; there’s a deadline and we are trying to help and hear the students, sometimes the voice takes time to be heard, but the deadline approaches, it’s snowballing and they’re sliding down this avalanche. Sometimes the system doesn’t allow them to get up. So you need to reassure the student that you are listening. Tell them you can sketch, throw that CAD out the window; you can’t sketch, pick up a model; you can’t speak, you need to put your thoughts in order; but you need to hear that voice. And at times the voice is so confused and troubled with pain; perhaps personal crisis, family problems, adolescent love, etc. And entwined amidst these circumstances, they put up work. And as I say in my foreword, that’s why we teach! You want them to put that offering, that thought in front of you and that’s when you know that now, they can do it.

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